“Live Your Dreams” is Bullshit, If That’s Where It Ends

People tend to get annoyed when the subject of living your dreams comes up and I say that it’s bullshit. Clearly, I believe in dreaming big and going for it—as the last year and a half of my own life shows—but I don’t think that anything’s possible. There are always limitations, some of them changeable and some of them not. Like maybe you want to be an opera singer but you’re always slightly off-pitch no matter how much you practice—I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re not going to achieve that particular dream. Which isn’t to say you can’t sing every day of your life and love it, but opera isn’t in your future. (Pop songs, maybe; I hear this Bob Dylan guy does well for himself.) Wanting something badly enough isn’t going to erase certain obstacles.

So there are inherent obstacles and then there are situational ones. These are the ones that make me angry, when travel blogs say, “You can do this, too! Drop everything and travel the world, it’s only your fear holding you back!” Sometimes, sure, it’s fear of the unknown and with a little push, you could really get out there and do it. But far more often, it’s a whole host of factors. If you have young kids, if you make $8 an hour, if you’re a care giver for an ill parent, if you’re paying off loads of student debt; these are perfectly legitimate reasons for saying, “I wish I could travel for a year, but I don’t think I can.” I know I’ve touched on this theme before, so pardon me for grinding this ax again, but it makes me so angry when privileged people act like people with no money just don’t want something enough to make it happen, be it travel or a secure job or a college education. It can be done, but it takes a tremendous amount of effort, assistance, and luck.

This is what I mean when I say “live your dreams” is a bullshit philosophy. I do not mean you shouldn’t dream and scheme and do things, and I do not mean we should all accept an outdated belief in sticking to one’s station in life, I just mean don’t devalue what you have while pining for some vague future event, and don’t act like dreams come for free. When it comes to encouraging other people to dream big, do what you can to offer practical support too. Don’t simply say to kids, “you can do whatever you want, just stay in school”; help them with their homework, vote for politicians who put money into public schools and free lunches, support after-school programs, help kids navigate the nightmare that is a FAFSA application when they’re applying to colleges, etc. So maybe I can get behind a philosophy of, “let’s help each other live our dreams.”

When it comes to long-term travel, if you start at a certain socioeconomic level, you can get started pretty easily and keep going for a decent amount of time. Still, money does run out eventually, so you have to either limit what you do/budget yourself or find alternatives. For myself, I’ve mostly stuck to a budget and accepted that this means I’ll see certain things and not others; recently, I realized that I could shell out $1200 for a bare-bones visit to the Galapagos Islands, or I could use that same money to get down to Iguazu Falls and the wine country of Argentina for three weeks. It was a tough decision, but I chose the falls over the islands, and I hope I’ll be back someday to see the islands. In the meantime, I’m going to try some alternatives as well, like volunteer gigs on workaway.com, in order to stretch the money more.

I’m living my dream and I still need to make adjustments. Of course I’d love to have unlimited funds and do whatever I like, but just because that’s not the case doesn’t mean I’m not having a wonderful time. It’s just that even dreams have realities.

I’m on Internet Radio!

My friend Dave has a podcast called Getting Better Acquainted, and last July I sat in London’s Hyde Park and talked with him about the first part of my trip around the world for the show. He’s posted it today, and I’m so pleased with it. It was fun to do at the time, but of course you’re never sure how it’s going to sound after the fact. Other than the weirdness of hearing my recorded voice, and the extra “like”s and “uhh”s, I think it stands up well! Please check it out.

We talked about the tourist/traveler distinction, and what it’s like to go somewhere totally new, and what it’s like to travel alone. We talked about some of my favorite and less favorite places, and a little about that time I got hit by a car. I finish with some inspirational words for women who want to travel alone (do it!).

An hour’s a long time, and the first three or so minutes of the podcast are plugs for London-based shows and programs (do listen closely there if you’re in London), but take a listen and let me know what you think! Many thanks to Dave for having me on his show, and to Liz for suggesting it.

Departure Date and Updated Pages

Dearest fellow travelers, I have a departure date! Friday, February 7, I will fly Detroit-Houston-Quito. The next Monday I’ll start a two-week intensive Spanish course, to shore up my nonexistent Spanish skills, and from there, who knows? I hope to be on the road for about six months, but we’ll see how it goes. Many thanks to those who have put me in touch with friends who live in or are familiar with South America; I’m grateful for that personal connection. As ever, feel free to email me at lisa dot findley at gmail dot com if you have tips or contacts to share.

I’ve also updated the Fund This Stowaway page. The two major expenses I expect to encounter on this trip are boating in the Galapagos Islands and hiking around Machu Picchu, and I’ve made them the goals you can contribute to if you so choose. (Said with no pressure. Seriously.)

Finally, I’ve updated the About page, so if you send friends over to check out Stowaway (and please do!), they can get a more accurate picture of what I’m up to.

I do plan to continue writing about my travels this past summer, and I’ll also write about the new adventures I’m having, so keep me in your bookmarks or RSS feed or whatever latest technology keeps Stowaway near and dear to you.

I can almost see home from here

Show me the way to the warmer climes

Goodbye to 2013, and Hello 2014!

As I wrote in my Thanksgiving Day piece: “I’ve spent seven months of this year on a trip around the world, gone to the weddings of some of my most beloved people, celebrated my grandmother’s 80th birthday with the whole clan, and published a piece on a major website. It really has been a terrific year, and I’m grateful for every day of it. Can’t wait to see what 2014 brings.”

I don’t have much to add to that except to say that my New Year’s resolution for 2013 was to post five times a week for the whole year–and I did it! Every Monday through Friday, I posted something from my travels–a photo, a diary entry, a reflection on travel, and only occasionally a “ahh I am too busy to come up with anything today, but I haven’t forgotten you” post. People who work in media have to generate content (that’s the key phrase) all the time, but this is not my job, it is a side project and labor of love. Thus, the challenge of my New Year’s resolution, and my happiness in meeting it.

I won’t be posting every day Monday through Friday for 2014 like I did for 2013, but I will post often. I can’t say what the new year will bring, but plans include: traveling to South America, meeting up with my goddaughter somewhere this summer, posting at least twice a week on Stowaway, gaining more freelance editing clients, and writing for more publications. It’s going to be a good year.

Joy on Fox Glacier, New Zealand

Climbing literal mountains in 2014. Happy New Year!

Where Should I Go Next?

All right, dearest fellow travelers, are you ready to tell me what to do? It’s time for me to be moving on again, and I’m planning to make South America my next destination. If you’ve been, or you know someone who’s been, or you’ve planned your own trip, or you read a cool article once–I want to hear from you.

Sala de Uyuni (salt flats in Bolivia)

Here are a few places I definitely want to go:

1) Machu Picchu (Peru)
2) Iguazu Falls (Brazil, Argentina)
3) Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia)
4) Buenos Aires (Argentina)
5) Amazon jungle (Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador)
6) Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)
7) Patagonia (Argentina, Chile)
8) Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
9) Beaches (oh, any country)
10) Angel Falls (Venezuela–I know, the political situation, but it’s still a sight I want to see)

Carnival

Here are a few things I definitely want to do:

1) Spend a month in one town, learning Spanish at a language school
2) Volunteer for at least a couple weeks somewhere
3) Party at Carnival (not necessarily in Rio)
4) Attempt to tango in Argentina
5) See wildlife I’ve never seen
6) Hike at least part of the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu
7) Find a quiet place to write for awhile
8) Learn to distinguish among the various cuisines
9) Go to a futbol game
10) Dance all night to a local band

Sometimes called The Death Road, sometimes called The Most Dangerous Road in the World–either way, I’m not cycling down it

Here is a thing people do that I do not want to do at all:

Ride a bike down The Most Dangerous Road in the World

**********

So! Whaddya think? Know anyone who lives down there, or have a favorite hostel I should check out? What’s your favorite village I won’t find in the guidebooks but should totally check out? Got any online resources you found useful? Are there places you’d recommend I skip?

I will leave sometime in January, and I hope to stretch the money out for six months of travel. I’ll keep blogging here at Stowaway, and I’ll be working to get published elsewhere too. I’m getting excited for Phase 2 of my trip around the world! Join me.

Image 1Image 2. Image 3.

Days of Gratitude

I’ve seen a lot of “Days of Gratitude” posts on Facebook this month. People post about something they’re grateful for every day up to Thanksgiving, usually with an accompanying photo. I think it’s a great idea, but I haven’t taken part, mostly because I feel like every blog post I’ve written this year has been a gratitude post.

Every day I get to write, which I’m grateful for in the way that most writers are grateful for the chance to write—it’s an aggravation, sometimes nearly impossible, but occasionally totally satisfying. Every day I write about this amazing trip I’ve been on, so every day I’m grateful anew for the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met.

I’ve spent seven months of this year on a trip around the world, gone to the weddings of some of my most beloved people, celebrated my grandmother’s 80th birthday with the whole clan, and published a piece on a major website. It really has been a terrific year, and I’m grateful for every day of it. Can’t wait to see what 2014 brings.

Thankful for the laughs from this year

Thankful for the laughs from this year

Vietnam by the Numbers

Delicious pork-based meals consumed: 20+

Delicious pork-based meals that were bun cha: 10+

Items of bespoke clothing purchased: 3

Animals seen: 10 or so (easily the fewest of my entire trip)

Entombed heads of state briefly glimpsed: 1

World Heritage sites admired: 2

Instances in which I was run over by a four-door sedan: 1

Packages of Oreos and Ritz crackers offered as recompense for being run over by a taxi: 4

Weeks for burns to heal: 4

Weeks for puncture wound to heal: 7

Major sightseeing trips canceled due to injuries: 2 (see you next time, Sapa and Halong Bay!)

Total money spent: $1,468.40

Number of days in the country: 28

Average amount spent per day: $52.44

Total money spent, minus the hospital costs: $1,026.30

Average amount spent per day, minus the hospital costs: $36.65

New friends made: 6

Old friends happily re-met by chance: 2

Reasons to go back and see more, uninjured this time: 100+

hue bike traditional hat

Border Crossings I’ve Made by Land

I’ve made three border crossings by land on this trip. Actually, when I got to Europe I made several bus and train crossings, but they were all seamless, and all but one were in EU countries, so I don’t really count them. The ones that stand out are Thailand to Laos, Cambodia to Vietnam, and Canada to the United States. Guess which one was the most aggravating?

I got 3/4 of the way through this top form before messing up, and I had to start all over again. Genius.

I got 3/4 of the way through this top form before messing up, and I had to start all over again. Genius.

I’m used to either shuffling through the EU, where they glance at your passport, grunt, and move on; or flying into a new country and standing in a long line at border control, to have an official scan my passport through some criminal system, take my fingerprints, sometimes even snap a photo. The land crossings I made on this trip fell somewhere in-between these types.

Thailand to Laos

Crossing from the town of Chiang Khong, Thailand to Huay Xai, Laos was pretty simple. I walked up to the small hut near the bottom of the hill, filled out the card that border control had stapled to my passport when I entered the country, and turned it in to the guard, who literally did not look up from the pile of papers he was stamping. He just stamped my card and waved me away. At the bottom of the hill I bought a ticket to cross the river, waited until there were enough people for a full ride, then climbed in the skinniest boat I’d ever been on.

A tiny boat on a huge river

A tiny boat on a huge river

I suppose that technically this was a water border crossing instead of a land one, but whatever, the main thing is I hardly breathed as that tiny boat skimmed across the Mekong River. Once on the other side, I filled out a long form and helped a Japanese guy fill his out; he had a little English, but not enough to navigate the customs questions on his own. An Israeli chipped in when I had trouble explaining a concept, and then we all went up to the window to get our visas. Most Westerners owe $35 (except for Canadians, who owe $42—what did Canada ever do to Laos?). I had crisp tens and twenties, as I had read enough to know that beat-up bills might be rejected, and then you’re screwed, because they want payment in US dollars, and where are you going to find an ATM with US dollars on the western border of Laos? I had read it was good to have exact change, but not necessary. Well, for me anyway, they wanted exact change. I had two flimsy dollar bills and was wondering whether to insist they take three tens and give me five back, or just tell them to keep the five, when the Israeli next to me in line said he could help out. He gave me $3 with a smile. I peeked in the office and saw three officials standing around and two creating visas, which seems a standard ratio of layabouts to workers for government offices worldwide. Eventually, I received my visa, shiny and pink, and I was officially allowed to stay in Laos for 30 days.

Cambodia to Vietnam

My bus from Phnom Penh was mostly full of Cambodians and Vietnamese, which I think explains why some aspects of the border crossing that are infamous on internet boards were absent in my experience. No one charged me an extra dollar or three for a “health exam,” for example, and I didn’t get taken to a fake border control office. Unlike in Laos, the bus didn’t drop me off a kilometer or two from the actual border, forcing me to hire a tuk-tuk to get to my actual destination.

Guard station at Cambodia to Vietnam border crossing

Guard station at Cambodia to Vietnam border crossing

Instead, our bus pulled up to the Vietnamese border control office (we never did anything to say goodbye to Cambodia), and we were waved off and told to bring everything with us, including our bags from the hold below. We stood in a clump in the mercifully cool border control building and watched our driver hand over a stack of our passports to an official, who then stamped each one without a glance or a scan anywhere. The driver then called out people whose passports were ready. I grabbed my passport, walked past an empty “health exam” window, and put my bags on an x-ray belt. I picked up my bags on the other end, showed my passport with its stamp on my visa to a guard slouching in a folding chair, and walked to the bus, which had been moved to the other side of the border. Voila!

Crossing from Cambodia to Vietnam was pretty painless. Officials didn’t hassle me or anyone on my bus, and security was light. The bus was carrying goods for some small businesses, and they must have checked those while we were inside, because when I put my bag back on the bus, everything was back in there, customs approved and ready to go.

Canada to the United States of America

Here’s where it got annoying. Trying to get from friendly neighbor Canada to my home country was way harder than it should have been. They are strict! And by “they” I mean the US Border Office. The bus I was on breezed through Windsor, Ontario and took the tunnel under the Detroit River. When we popped up on the other side, the bus pulled over at the super clean border patrol office. We unloaded our gear and stood in line. Probably it would have been fine if it hadn’t been for one officer.

Passport control on the Thailand side of the Mekong River

Passport control on the Thailand side of the Mekong River

This guy was a total tool, almost stereotypically power tripping. He targeted me and two other people, all of whom had backpacks instead of rolling suitcases. I showed him my US passport and he waved me ahead, but the woman from New Zealand and her boyfriend from South Africa, these needed special attention. He demanded to see their visas; the Kiwi said she had the waiver that she’d filled out online. Nope, doesn’t count, he made her fill it all out again on paper. Isn’t the online form supposed to save us from wasting time like this? He grilled the South African on just why he wanted to visit America anyway—what were his intentions? He didn’t plan to stay, did he? Worse was when it was the Kiwi’s turn. She explained that they were couchsurfing in Chicago, and that they’d been traveling for nine months. Why would you want to travel for that long, and what is this “couchsurfing” you speak of, etc., etc., and all in a smarmy tone. He leered at her as he talked, and when we got back on the bus she said it felt like he was hititng on her. While making her feel small and trying to find a way to keep her out of the country. Ugh.

Even I got a bit of a hard time from the officer checking my passport. Where was I living? How long had I been gone? Why had I gone to so many countries? I just want to go home, yeesh! Then I sat in the row of hard chairs with the rest of the people from the bus (about 15 of us) while we waited for any one of the four free officers to turn on the x-ray machine and run our bags through them.

The South African and the Kiwi were camping for much of their trip, so there were pots, a tent, and a large carving knife in the guy’s bag. The officer pointed out the knife to a civilian standing next to him at the x-ray machine and said, “Huh, wonder what’s up with the knife” and waved him on. So that seemed like a secure process. Not that it had been any more secure at the Vietnamese border, but they weren’t pretending it was, and the US officers were definitely treating us like we were all smuggling in kilos of drugs and AK-47s, while not really checking to make sure we weren’t; but they still did their best to make us all—including the American citizens—feel super unwelcome.

Summertime, Summertime

Image

Big skies in Ontario

Big skies in Ontario

Lace among the conifers

Lace among the conifers

Up north/back in time

Up north/back in time

This superhero is ready to take on that storm

This superhero is ready to take on that storm

Sunshine in a bowl

Sunshine in a bowl

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

summertime michigan

Elegant wedding table setting (and that cookie was delicious)

Big Star in Wicker Park, Chicago

Big Star in Wicker Park, Chicago

I hope that does its job deterring thieves

I hope that does its job deterring thieves

August=tomatoes

August=tomatoes

A few hours before dusk, when the deer come out

A few hours before dusk, when the deer come out